The murder of U.S. ambassador to Libya John Christopher Stevens was made more tragic by the irony that he was one of that country’s biggest fans, and thoroughly committed to helping its democracy blossom.
Initially, the attack Tuesday on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, which left Stevens and three other Americans dead, was believed to be a spontaneous response by Muslims to an independent film made in America that depicts the prophet Muhammad as a sexual deviate. That film was also blamed for a similar attack on the U.S. embassy in Cairo; no one died in the Egyptian incident.
By Wednesday, however, Mideast experts were speculating that the two-stage Libyan attack was well planned in advance, with an initial wave designed to draw the Americans out of the consulate and a second wave in which they were exposed to a rocket-propelled grenade blast.
The Cairo attack, too, experts said, might have had little to do with the anti-Muslim film and more to do with jihadists’ trying to destroy the U.S. relationship with two struggling nations.
Unfortunately, because it is election season, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney didn’t wait for expert assessments to use the four diplomats’ deaths to launch his own verbal assault. He said, “It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”
Apparently, Romney was reacting to a statement actually made prior to the attack on the Benghazi consulate by the U.S. embassy in Cairo, which said it “condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims,” referring to the controversial film. The White House said Wednesday that it never authorized that statement. But what if it did?
Were he alive, Stevens would likely express the same sentiment. The former Peace Corps worker in Morocco had great respect for Muslims. He was the U.S. envoy to the resistance group that successfully brought down Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi. At his confirmation hearing earlier this year, Stevens gushed about what an “extraordinary honor” it would be to serve as U.S. ambassador during Libya’s “historic transition.”
Unlike Romney, President Obama was able to express the sadness and anger of a nation that has just seen four of its diplomats murdered by extremists while also acknowledging the feelings of Muslims who believe their religion isn’t respected by Americans. “While the United States rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, we must all unequivocally oppose the violence that took the lives of these public servants,” he said.
Obama vowed that his administration “will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act.” But he was careful to make it clear that Libya is still a friend, a country that, given its current violence, is going to need friends to survive.